back to article Neurotrash creativity 'expert' created Dylan quotes from thin air

A self-appointed expert who used brain scans to "demystify" human creativity has admitted he was overly creative in his "journalism". Jonah Lehrer confessed that he made-up quotes he had attributed to Bob Dylan, and has quit his job at the New Yorker magazine. Journalist and author Lehrer is a kind of cut-price Malcolm …


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  1. Pen-y-gors Silver badge


    Well, at least he didn't plagiarise, plagiarise, plagiarise, only be sure always to call it please 'research'.

    1. Graham Marsden

      Re: Lobachevsky

      If you copy from one source, that's plagiarism.

      If you copy from three sources, that's research!

      1. Pen-y-gors Silver badge

        Re: Lobachevsky

        But in this case he didn't copy - he invented! That makes it ORIGINAL research.

  2. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

    Oh, I segues into a copyright discussion... oh noes!

    That was a creative mash-up born in hell.

    It's like one of those articles where some prof tries to demonstrate that consciousness actually, objectively exists and cannot be explained by science or imitated by application of engineering. He then sets up a strawman ("experiments with brain damaged patients SHOW that qualia are not generated in the BRAIN!") which is then meticulously destroyed.

    Here the need is expressed to show that creativity actually, objectively exists, has nothing to do with plagiarism or imitation and needs the guns and badges of the state for some monopoly action on its products. Then a strawman is set up (some dude from the NYT, who he?) which is then messily destroyed.

    Many questions remain!

    Am I being creative if I remove the milk bottle from the fridge in a special way while fighting off my cat? Is it creative to think about the neurological basis of creativity? Is finding a creative algorithm that creates for me actually being creative or is it being meta-creative? Do I get a meta-copyright?

    1. Brewster's Angle Grinder Silver badge

      Re: Oh, I segues into a copyright discussion... oh noes!

      Yes, creativity is a "mixing function". But like a good hash-function, the mixing should be so complete that the sources are indiscernible in the output. The results must then be appraised, refined and evolved, and only the best selected for release. That takes both talent and practice. We're currently handing out medals to people who've honed their athletic talent through years of training, while deploring those who cheat. The "muscle" in ones skull deserves the same level of respect.

  3. Bob Grahame

    Er, "sociobiology – the debunked field", no, actually

    Sociobiology is thriving. Widely accepted as central to understanding the evolved behaviour of many organisms, including humans. The "just so story" claims and controversies that accompanied its birth have pretty much died down nowadays. To avoid the association, it is now often called "Behavioural Ecology", but it is the same thing Wilson laid out in the 70s. The tiny subset of sociobiology relating to human "evolutionary psychology" is still a bit contentious (and certainly contains plenty of academic flame-bait), but sociobiology as a whole is now part of the standard model of biology.


  4. Swarthy


    Phrenology (the "science" of understanding a person's personality by the shape and contours of the skull) has been thoroughly discredited, however, there is strong evidence for retro-phrenology: Altering a persons behaviour and attitude (and occasionally personality) by re-arranging the contours of their skull.

    1. Richard 81

      Re: Phrenology

      A treatment pioneered by Zorgo, I believe.

  5. Captain Save-a-ho

    Look at the bright side

    At least there's no way self-appointed expert will be able to get near climate science any time soon.

  6. asdf


    What a crap hack and perfect example of how excellence in journalism like many other fields has became about more about generating revenue than the quality or integrity of the service/product. The TMZ and Jersey Shoreification of western civ continues unabated.

  7. tekHedd


    grindcore, yes. GRIMEcore? I guess if you're making up quotes you might as well make up musical genres as well.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Grimecore?

      Hah - next you'll claim you haven't heard of pipes 'n' drums 'n' bass (very big north of the border, apparently)

    2. NumptyScrub

      Re: Grimecore?

      quote: "grindcore, yes. GRIMEcore? I guess if you're making up quotes you might as well make up musical genres as well."

      Music journalists (and fans, to be fair) have been making up musical genres since the invention of music. The last couple of decades have been ridiculous for it; I have absolutely no doubt that someone has already coined the term "grimecore" and a quick search on the interwebs has validated this.

      Along with a wiki link for the term "grindie" (grime + indie, apaprently).

      I can only presume that fans of a particular band get so incensed at having "their" band likened to other bands who practise a similar sound, that they have to point out the differences e.g. "No! Band X is screamo, but Band Y is hardcore emo they are not the same thing at all!".

      I remember when it was all "heavy metal", as far as the eye could see...

  8. John H Woods Silver badge

    The debunked field of sociology ...

    There may be a lot in that field that has been debunked but I'm pretty sure that not all sensible people have entirely discarded the idea that at least some social behaviour has genetic foundations.

    1. Vic

      Re: The debunked field of sociology ...

      > at least some social behaviour has genetic foundations.

      It's trivial to show that this is so. Just get some chicken eggs.

      Chickens can be hatched in an incubator. You can produce a small flock that has never had any contact with other chickens. Yet that flock will behave exactly[1] as you expect chickens to behave.

      That behavior cannot be learned - there are no other chickens from which to learn. It is either the only possible way of behaving - which is a daft idea - or else it is laid down in the genetics.

      It is reasonable to assume that humans are not immune to this effect - but I have no way of knowing whether it is more than statistical noise compared to the learned behaviours we have.


      [1] All the cockerels my mate hatched would crow. But some weren't all that good at it :-)

  9. Charlie van Becelaere

    Pot? Kettle?

    " With good reason, these claims to authority are called "neuro-phrenology", or more elegantly, "neurotrash"."

    No doubt phrenologists everywhere are shaking with anger at the thought of being associated with this tripe.

  10. cd

    Jonah Swallowed By Own Whopper

    Headline for sale...see title.

  11. Arfur Smiff
    Thumb Up

    unintentional misquotations

    I like that. I wonder who the first celebritwat to unintentionally mis-tweet or mis-facbook is going to be?

  12. bmkaren


    Like John Lennon said, "You may say that I'm a dreamer, but I'm not."

  13. Rob Morton


    As Albert Einstein observed "If you have a weak argument, just make up a quote and attribute it to some famous dead dude".

  14. Robinson

    Is this really notable?

    The Media is a buzzing hive of activity of people all writing or talking complete bollocks about things they know little. So does this guy stand out? Really?


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